We all have different management styles and some work better than others. We also have certain talents and skills that make us good at what we do. We, and every employee in our company, were hired for a reason. It may have been because they had a much-needed skill or it could have been because they have an impeccable reputation. The fact is, however, many times our management styles and our skills don’t always perfectly align.
A common mistake that companies can make is to confuse successes with strengths. They can look more at outward accomplishments instead of inward characteristics. For example, an employee can be a highly successful sales executive with record sales but not necessarily a strong sales manager (more on this later). Just because we are in a field of expertise, doesn’t mean we are an expert in every role within that expertise.
Companies often struggle to define and fill management roles, and as few as 11 percent of employees actually want them. Being a manager requires different skill sets than non-management roles. Promoting an employee to a manager based on their performance rather than their strengths can be a recipe for disaster and set that person up for failure.
“Everybody is a genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” - Albert Einstein
Strength-Based Management is an approach that considers the strengths of an employee over all else. It doesn’t ignore weaknesses in the process, however. In fact, it recognizes that every employee has both strengths and weaknesses. When you can do that, you can begin to develop those strengths while working on the weaknesses for the betterment of the employee and the company.
Employees are actually asking for this type of management style. One study found 69 percent of employees say they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized and 78 percent said being recognized motivates them in their job.
They will accept constructive criticism and are looking for opportunities to grow. When they say they want to develop their skills, they are really asking to develop their strengths. They want to get really good at doing something so they can become an expert. Then they want to learn new things so they become multi-dimensional.
This is the same concept as post-secondary education. We go to college to figure out what we’re really good at, then we take a bunch of classes to make sure we get really good at it but at the same time, we’re learning lots of other things to make use well-rounded and employable.
What we need to be doing with our employees (and ourselves) is ensuring they can get really good at something and they have opportunities to become well-rounded. This breaks up the monotony and keeps things interesting. It gives employees opportunities to grow both horizontally and vertically. Research shows when people are able to use their strengths every day, they are three times more likely to report having an excellent quality of life, six times more likely to be engaged at work, and 15 percent less likely to quit their jobs. Identifying their strengths is worth it.
It’s to a manager’s advantage to admit they aren’t good at everything. It’s impossible to excel at everything, no matter how hard one might try. When they make the attempt, they juggle too many balls, are spread too thin and something has to give. Employees can smell this kind of inflated ego from a mile away, rendering the manager ineffective. Instead, managers must learn their own strengths and weaknesses, then delegate in the areas they know they can’t (or don’t want to) excel.
This concept is nothing new. President Obama recently gave (then) President-elect Trump similar advice, telling him that the presidency is a big job that no one person can do alone. He told Trump that if he wants to succeed, he will have to surround himself with people who are really good at doing things he may not be so great at doing. This is advice any manager or business leader should consider.
Management has to be on board with this strength-based management approach. They have to support the notion that everyone, including them, has strengths and weaknesses that can be developed. Only then will the right people be promoted based on their strengths and the requirements of that position.
Here’s a perfect example I wanted to get back to: A business leader recognizes Anne is an incredible sales executive. She not only hits all of her sales goals but she smashes them month after month. Her clients love her and her manager thinks she’s the best thing that’s ever happened to the company. A new sales manager role opens up and the first person who is considered for the position is Anne. Why not? She has all of the strengths of a great sales executive.
And that is where our problem begins. She has all of the strengths of a great sales exec, NOT a great manager. But she is promoted anyway, based on her stellar record and reputation. She’s thrilled to not be traveling so much and enjoys the bump in pay. She now has a few employees reporting to her for the first time in her career.
The problem is Anne has never managed people before. She’s always worked with quotas and sales pitches, not people who have to answer to her. She gets frustrated with her employees because they aren’t performing to her expectations. She vents her frustrations with them - frequently - and can’t seem to communicate her expectations in a way they can understand. She complains to her manager that her team simply isn’t working hard enough. She loses her temper occasionally and makes her employees feel like giving up. She’s ready to throw in the towel, too. In fact, she’s looking at a competitor to see if maybe she can change up her scenery a bit with a management position there because she thinks the problem is with her direct reports.
What’s happened here is Anne was never qualified to be a manager. While she was a killer sales rep, her strengths didn’t include people management, communication or motivational skills. While she was assertive, she struggled to drive improvements in performance.
If the company had implemented strength-based management, they would have seen that Anne’s strengths were in her presentation skills, closing the deal, and nurturing client relationships. They would have recognized that Anne had some weaknesses, too, like no management experience and rarely working with others. While she is a great employee, promoting her to a management role wouldn’t be the best course of action until she developed new strengths and worked on her weaknesses.
This doesn’t mean employees who have never managed can’t ever manage. What it means is that some people are predisposed to be in management and those who aren’t can be taught. The wrong strategy would be to throw the ones with no experience into the pool of sharks and see if they can swim. It’s not fair to the person promoted and it’s not fair to the employees who will have to report to them.
A strength-based management approach enables everyone in the company to celebrate their strengths, even talk about them and share them as part of the office culture. It’s not bragging, it’s allowing people to share what they do best with others for the good of the company. This fosters teamwork and collaboration across the enterprise, encouraging employees to explore other areas of the business. They can grow right where they’re planted - meaning just because they were hired for a specific job doesn’t mean they have to stay there forever. They take advantage of opportunities to grow within the company so they eventually can become a good manager, if that is something they are even interested in doing.
Focusing on strengths is something even parents are advised to do. It’s easy to point out and complain about what people (or kids) are doing wrong, but we all respond much better when we feel our strengths are recognized and appreciated. It’s the same concept as rewards work better than punishment. When people feel like their strengths are rewarded instead of their weaknesses being punished, they are happier.
If you are a manager, this should give you hope that you can make positive changes in how you manage your employees. You can’t do it alone but you can be a champion for cultural change. You can help your company begin to embrace this philosophy in order to create a more engaged, happier and more fulfilled employee base. Want more? Here’s a fantastic resource from Gallup on how to build a strength-based organization.